The author of this piece has a family member on the board of the following cultural organization. This piece is not meant to be used as an advertisement for the organization but an editorial about Japanese culture and female empowerment.
On a holiday of traditionally feminine festivities, Los Angeles’ Japanese American Community and Cultural Center uses Japan’s Doll Festival to celebrate female empowerment within their cultural heritage.
Since Japan’s Heian period (794-1185), March 3 has marked the day where families celebrate the healthy development of their young girls. Kent Marume, the JACCC’s Community Engagement Associate, organized the event for the festival weekend.
“There was a certain time frame where girls in general across the country were having difficulty staying alive past a certain age, so the celebration for girls was to celebrate if they got to a certain milestone age to celebrate their life,” Marume said.
As the name implies, the Doll Festival is observed by exhibiting dolls set on a tiered display with an emperor and empress doll seated at the top. The dolls are meant to pray for young girl’s growth and happiness, reported Japan Today. The festivities include kimono wearing, a tea ceremony, and eating holiday theme sweets.
Today, the holiday, contemporarily known as “Girl’s Day” and traditionally know as “Hinamatsuri”, continues as a way for people to stay rooted to their cultural heritage.
On top of the doll display, the L.A. based event had many cultural workshop for families to enjoy. The workshops featured families learning how to make onigiri and bento, teaching girls how to properly wear kimono, and a brief lesson in the battlefield practice of naginata.
The most non-tradional activity was learning how to fight with a naginata. A naginata is a mix between a sword and a spear and resembles a staff with a curved blade mounted at one end. Traditionally wielded by women, naginata was taught to the daughters of samurai families to teach them how to fight and defend their homeland, according to The Japan Times.
Believing in the naginata’s power, Marume explained how his great-great-great grandmother was a female samurai and would watch a battle from afar and intervene once her family’s side began to lose.
“Naginata, to me, is very rooted in women and rooted in females in general in Japan and America,” said Marume.
The workshops were meant to focus on the empowerment of young girls, said UCLA senior and event volunteer Emiko Kranz. Due to the current political climate, a lot of women in the United States have been feeling unsafe and vulnerable, so the program was crafted to show girls that they already possess their own power and strength, said Kranz.
“We wanted to make sure the girls understand that even if it’s traditionally feminine, that doesn’t mean that it’s weak.” said Kranz.
The best example of this was the naginata workshop.
According to the New York Times. martial art has been the dominant source of physical education for girls in Japanese schools since 1912 and is considered a more feminine alternative to the sword.
Some men even show disdain to the weapon due to its implied femininity and are taught to view sword fighting as the masculine alternative. As a result, in schools, boys learn how to fight with a sword, and girls learn how to fight with a naginata.
This common assumption says a lot about Japanese gender dynamics and the stringent separation of the sexes in Japanese culture. However, there is a lot that can be said for applying femininity to a powerful weapon that was built to take down horses in battle.
As Kranz said, femininity is not a synonym for weakness; it is defined by society. In a time where women feel like they’re losing their voice in the government and worry for their future generations, people need to focus on what can be controlled. At this point in time, people can’t redefine femininity by instilling strength.
People need to teach children that feminine traits are more then okay to have but empowering. By embracing the power of traditionally defined femininity, you are able to overcome the societal standards and help others shed the title of “weakness” and become a more equalizing force in society.